The phrase referring to Britain as “a nation of shopkeepers” is often attributed to Napoleon, but this concept even predates Napoleon. Adam Smith, the philosopher and economist, also referred to “a nation of shopkeepers” in his 1776 book “A Wealth of Nations”. But no matter who got there first, it is true that shopkeepers and small businesses are the backbone of our nation’s economy.
At the end of last year, there were 5.7 million small and medium sized businesses in the UK, which make up 99% of all businesses. This is an increase of nearly 200,000 from the year before and up by 2.2m since the turn of the century. Just under 50% of all small business revenue comes from either the manufacturing or retail industries. There is no doubt that this sector of the economy is thriving and there are some good reasons for this.
Access to finance is has improved since the economic crash of 2008. Small and medium sized businesses no longer have to approach banks and major lending institutions for financing – the expansion of digital platforms mean that information regarding grants is more readily available, as is the proliferation of peer-to peer lending schemes and crowdfunding sites.
Another factor in the success of small businesses is that they often recruit locally. This is good for the local economy, as employees have local knowledge that they can use to the company’s advantage. And small businesses are more agile, and can increase or decrease their employee base more quickly than larger organisations in order to adjust to changing circumstances. They can often offer more flexible working conditions to their employees – which can foster high rates of job satisfaction as improved productivity.
Also, small businesses give people to opportunity to achieve financial independence. A business can be as good as the people running it. From the initial concept coming from real people with good ideas, to execution to success – all of this comes from the owner and the people he or she chooses to employ. Their personal financial success or failure is not dependent on a large, corporate organisation.
Small businesses deserve our support and acknowledgment of the incredibly important role they play in our economy. In a few weeks’ time, on Saturday, 1 December, we will celebrate Small Business Saturday. Launched in 2013 in the UK, Small Business Saturday has grown from a small event encouraging people to shop locally to an annual event that reaches millions and now takes place in the UK, the US and Australia.
There are many ways that we can get involved. Most notably, on the Small Business Saturday website, https://smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/#get-involved we can look for local small businesses in our area by the type of business to support. We all enjoy going to a small retailer and being known by name, and maybe having our shopping preferences known too. These are establishments that often form the character of a community. The relationships created between customers and those that work in independent business frequently go beyond just purchases — it becomes familial. Small businesses provide the feeling that a real person is behind it all, someone who cares more than a large organisation about giving us a quality product or service. Furthermore, there is a certain satisfaction that most of us experience when we support independent shops on the High Street. By doing so, you’re directly putting money back into your own community. You’re funding great ideas and ventures that can only exist outside of mainstream, corporate chains.
It is these kinds of businesses at add a layer of interest to our increasingly homogenous shopping precincts, full of chains of coffee shops, restaurants and other types of large retailers. Our High Streets have become somewhat predictable due to the proliferation of the chains, leaving an opportunity in the market for small independents to show their individuality.
I hope you will support your local small businesses – whether they be retailers or serviced-based. The people who are the owners and employees of these businesses are our friends, relatives and neighbours. The success of these small businesses is in direct correlation to the success of our communities. It’s in all of our interest when making a spending decision to consider going small – the future of small businesses depends on us doing just that.